By the time the Crimean War had begun in 1853, photography’s usefulness as a means of documenting, sharing, and digesting ‘factual’ knowledge of historic events was widely acknowledged. The medium had advanced enough, technically, to enable documenting the war, at least its less chaotic scenes, making it the first large war event that was captured photographically. Along with Roger Fenton, the war’s most famous photographer, James Robertson was commissioned to cover the conflict. Both photographers supplied their images to the information-hungry public, but despite the advances in photographic technology, reproducing the images in the press remained problematic. The only way to satisfy the demand was to translate the images into detailed lithographs and engravings.
It is unclear how Robertson’s photographs made it into the hands of the US Army when they were reproduced as lithographs in Major Richard Delafield’s Report on the Art of War in Europe in 1854, 1855, and 1856. Delafield was appointed by the War Department in 1855 to visit Europe for the purpose of ‘obtaining information with regard to the military service in general, and especially the practical working of changes which have been introduced of late years into the military systems of the principal nations of Europe’. The report from his year-long trip to the battlefield was published as a 300 page bound volume illustrated with an appendix of beautiful lithographs made from Robertson’s Crimean photographs. The prints serve as an excellent example of the limitations imposed on the utility of photography mid 19th century by the yet unsolved problem of a practical method of industrial reproduction.
This image shows the completely destroyed interior of the Malakoff redoubt after the French assault, which brought an end to the siege of Sevastopol. This is one of six redoubts that defended Sevastopol.